State and Federal Legislative Update: April 6, 2020

State Legislative Update

The Minnesota House of Representatives and the Minnesota Senate will hold floor session tomorrow, Tuesday, April 7, to take up legislation to address workers’ compensation claims for first responders, police officers, firefighters, and health care workers, including home health care workers, who contract COVID-19. The language of the workers’ compensation bill can be found HERE.

The Legislature is still scheduled to return for floor session on April 14. Some of the COVID-19 related issues lawmakers are considering for when they return include: suspending hospital bed licensing to create flexibility for more hospital beds; a compromise on Workers Compensation issues for first responders related to COVID-19; and rental assistance funding.

This week, both the House and Senate are holding remote committee hearings related to COVID-19 (see schedule below). While COVID-19 related legislation is a priority, we may begin to see other work moving forward as well. The link below includes a list of COVID-19 related and non-related priorities from the Governor shared with legislators that includes proposals from the House and Senate caucuses.

Initially, the Legislature was scheduled to be on its Easter/Passover break this week. However, given the urgent needs surrounding state efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature changed its Easter/Passover break to begin on Wednesday, April 8 at 5:00 p.m. and conclude on Monday, April 13 at 12:00 p.m.

One of the committees that met today was the bipartisan Senate COVID-19 Response Working Group. This committee plans to meet tomorrow as well, and possibly Wednesday to continue its work.

Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) Commissioner Myron Frans discussed the current budget situation and budget outlook, but said there are still many unknowns. Commissioner Frans discussed the recently passed federal CARES Act. Frans said they hope to get guidance from the federal government by April 13 and the state money no later than April 24. Frans said the state’s priorities are making sure the state is increasing capacity of beds and ICU units, as well as coronavirus testing. He said they need to manage using federal funds effectively and monitor ongoing expenditures. Frans gave a shout out to state workers and told committee members that people are working hard and long hours at state agencies, and are doing a great job. 

Dr. Laura Kalambokidis, State Economist with Minnesota Management and Budget testified along with Commissioner Frans and provided a state and national economic update. She told committee members that when risks of the outbreak were first looked at, they didn’t anticipate shutting down large parts of the U.S. economy. As those policy changes have been made, she said macro forecasters have been incorporating demand shock into economic outlooks. Dr. Kalambokidis said Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of new real time economic data because it comes at a lag, but she did say they are watching the unprecedented surge in unemployment claims. She said there have been 300,000 new unemployment claims since mid-March in Minnesota.

Senator Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, asked Dr. Kalambokidis when would be the earliest the state could get a new economic forecast. Dr. Kalambokidis responded that she respects the question and understands lawmakers need to know, but she said she would want it to be useful and credible and not just adding to confusion and noise. She said they are looking at what they can do with information they already have, and will provide the best information they can at the best possible time. She said the bottom line is they basically don’t know and aren’t able to give lawmakers a date as to when the next forecast could become available. She said the U.S. outlook is highly volatile right now, and she would want any new projection to be based on something solid.

Regarding what can be done now, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said one of the things the state can do is to advocate for businesses that are safe to get back to work. He said he knows Governor Walz is also thinking about that. He also asked Commissioner Frans about the size of state government. Frans said they have implemented a hiring freeze and have stopped hiring for non-essential positions. He said actions need to be targeted and make sure the state keeps the right services available.

Senator Rosen also asked what the state could do to stimulate activity. Dr. Kalambokidis. explained that because the state has to balance its budget at the end of the fiscal year, the state would have a hard time passing any significant stimulus package. She said that’s why the federal government has passed the CARES Act, a bill that offers stimulus to states. The federal government can deficit finance the stimulus funds. She said it’s the right thing for the federal government to do.

Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, asked what could the Legislature do in terms of bonding, and could a bonding package act as a stimulus. Dr. Kalambokidis said in principle, putting people to work when interest rates are low can be a great plan, but she reminded members that there’s an impact of a bonding bill on the budget as well. “It’s not free money, there’s debt service. Given the changing and deteriorating budget situation, that has to be taken into consideration,” Dr. Kalambokidis said.

Senate Majority Leader Gazelka summarized his priorities and next steps including:

  • Dedicating revenue streams that are more targeted than the federal relief plan.
  • Considering a bonding bill, but including precautions about how to fund it.
  • Exploring other ways to stimulate the economy that don’t require spending – such as delaying taxes for businesses and loosening regulations for new business startups.

Federal Legislative Update

Delegation members urge disaster declaration for Minnesota

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Representatives Angie Craig (D-02), Dean Phillips (D-03), Betty McCollum (D-04), Ilhan Omar (D-05), Tom Emmer (R-06), and Pete Stauber (R-08) urged the Trump Administration to approve Minnesota’s request for a major disaster declaration due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The letter, sent to the White House yesterday, can be read in full here.

“All of Minnesota’s 87 counties and 11 tribes have been affected by the spread of the pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote. “As of April 5, the State had 935 positive cases and 29 deaths, with those affected ranging in age from 4 months to 104 years old. Minnesota’s health care facilities are confronting a lack of needed supplies and limited capacity, which will be exacerbated by a limited number of qualified medical staff that is expected to decrease further as the pandemic continues to spread.”

Fourth relief package in flux as leaders triangulate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scaled back her ambitions for Congress‘s next coronavirus stimulus package to focus on additional direct payments to individuals and expanded loans to businesses, possibly leaving an $800 billion infrastructure plan and other priorities for a later bill. Speaker Pelosi released a statement on Friday saying that Congress will need to build on the last relief package, the CARES Act.

Even amid the urgency of the virus response, Pelosi promised to continue working “on an infrastructure package for recovery that addresses some of the critical impacts and vulnerabilities in America that have been laid bare by the coronavirus.” In a letter to House lawmakers this weekend, the Speaker said communities in the U.S. “cannot afford to wait” for the next coronavirus stimulus.

Yet there is not consensus on what the next stimulus should look like. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Associated Press in a recent interview that there will be a fourth virus-related bill, but said he and Speaker Pelosi have a “different point of view” about the timing of the next package and what should be included. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he did not think a fourth tranche of aid “is appropriate at this time,” adding that a “tweak” to the most recent legislation might be better.

House Virus Committee would add new layer of oversight

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her chamber will create a special committee to oversee the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, including how the $2.2 trillion from last month’s stimulus plan is spent. The Speaker said that the bipartisan committee, to be led by third-ranking Democrat James Clyburn, will also seek to ensure that steps are taken based on science and to protect against price gouging of essential materials in the broader economy.

This House committee would be separate from the layers of oversight included in the stimulus bill Congress passed last week. That law mandates a special inspector general, an accountability committee of relevant government departments and a five-person panel appointed by Congress to oversee part of the federal aid for companies.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and top Energy and Commerce Republican Greg Walden said in a telephone news conference that an additional House panel to oversee the coronavirus response is unnecessary.


Legislative Schedule

Tuesday, April 7

11:00 a.m.

Senate COVID-19 Response Working Group

Room: Remote

Chair: Senator Paul Gazleka


The Long-Term Care Imperative

  • Deb Barnes, Lakeview Methodist Health Care, Executive Director
  • Kari Thurlow, LeadingAge Minnesota, Sr. Vice President of Advocacy
  • Toby Pearson, Care Providers of MN, Vice President of Advocacy

Office of the Ombudsman for Long-Term Care

  • Cheryl Hennen, State Ombudsman for Long-Term Care

Minnesota Dept. of Health Update

  • Kris Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Diseases

12:00 p.m.

House in Session

COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims legislation

2:00 p.m.

Senate in Session

COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims legislation

4:00 p.m.

House Education Finance

Room: Remote

Chair: Rep. Jim Davnie

Agenda: Informational Hearing on HF 4415 (Davnie) Compensation for hourly employees required for school days cancelled due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) during the 2019-2020 school year. No formal action will be taken during this remote hearing.

HF4415(Davnie): Compensation for hourly employees required for school days cancelled due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) during the 2019-2020 school year.


Wednesday, April 8

8:30 a.m.

House Taxes

Room: Remote

Chair: Rep. Paul Marquart

Agenda: DE Amendment for HF 2693 (Marquart): **This is a vehicle bill** DE language posted below: pertaining to liquor posting; allowing the commissioner discretion in posting certain taxpayers affected by an executive closure order

HF2693 (Marquart): Taxation; underpayment penalties modified.

Attachments: DE2 Author’s Amendment

9:45 a.m.

House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division

Room: Remote

Chair: Rep. John Lesch


DE Amendment for HF 1197 (Lesch): **This is a vehicle bill** DE language posted below: pertaining to suspension of statutory deadlines in District and Appellate Courts

HF1197(Lesch): Electronic communication held by a service provided or third party access by a government entity prohibited except under certain procedures, data retention limits provided, remedies provided, and report required.

Attachments: DE1 Author amendment HF 1197

9:45 a.m.

House Subcommittee on Elections

Room: Remote

Chair: Rep. Raymond Dehn


Informational: HFxxxx (Dehn) A bill for an act relating to elections; authorizing the secretary of state to issue emergency orders related to the conduct of an election during certain peacetime emergencies; appropriating money from the Help America Vote Act account; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 204B

12:45 p.m.

House Transportation Finance and Policy Division

Room: Remote

Chair: Rep. Frank Hornstein

Agenda: The Transportation Finance & Policy Division is planning to hold a Remote Hearing on Covid-19 Response Legislation

-Testimony from the Department of Public Safety

– DE Amendment for HF1447 (Tabke) *This is a vehicle bill* DE language will be posted to accompany this bill as soon as it is available

HF1447(Tabke): Twin Cities metropolitan area replacement transit service providers funding provided, and money appropriated.

2:30 p.m.

House Education Policy

Room: Remote

Chair: Rep. Cheryl Youakim


Overview of the Remote Hearing Process 

Approval of Minutes for March 11, 2020 House File 4415 (Davnie) – Please see the DE9 attachment H4415DE9.pdf

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